Manhattan, Czech city partner exchange ideas

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Lush, green summers and the frost of a freezing cold winter might sound like the perfect description of Manhattan weather, but these wide variations can describe the climate of a city thousands of miles across the world: the little town of Dobrichovice, just outside of Prague in the Czech Republic.

Extreme climate changes are not the only characteristics shared between the two cities, however. Since 2006 Manhattan and Dobrichovice have exchanged cultural ideas through an official partner city program.

Started and managed by the official Partner City Advisory Committee, within the Manhattan City Commission, the partnership began as a way to increase cultural awareness and exchange ideas between the cities.

“All of these cultural and education things are happening,” said Ed Klimek, partner city chair.

Klimek said the partnership has been a way for Manhattan residents not only to learn more about the Czech city, but also to interact. The partnership has promoted this interaction with both young students as well as students at K-State.

“There are elementary schools that have exchange programs — kids interact with those in the Czech Republic,” he said. “K-State has an exchange program with two universities in the Czech Republic; there are 27 students here and the equivalent number there.”

Klimek said the originality of the partnership with Dobrichovice is credited to a former K-State professor and Czech native.

“Our city commission wanted to find a place somewhere in the world to share culture, art, education and things like that,” Klimek said. “K-State professor Joseph Barton stepped up and said, ‘Let me find one.'”

Joseph Barton-Dobenin’s family owned a great deal of land, as well as a castle, in Czechoslovakia. Klimek said when the communist movement took over the area, however, Barton’s family lost everything. Barton moved to America and for more than 20 years was a professor at K-State.

When Czechoslovakia was split into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the professor was taken aback after he was notified that his family would be given back all buildings and land lost in the communist movement.

It was this that prompted the retired professor to volunteer in finding a place for Manhattan to call its partner.

“He found the city, Dobrichovice — he found it for us,” Klimek said. “In 2006, we became affirmed as a partner city. We can credit a K-State professor; he did it all.”

While Manhattan has partnered with the Czech city for four years now, many Manhattan residents are not always aware they have a partner city, or what it means.

“People would say, ‘What is this partner city thing?'” Klimek said. “We need to educate the people, let them know what this partner city is all about.”

In order to promote awareness for the partnership, the Partner City Advisory Committee is raising funds to create a flag plaza in City Park, which will promote the partnership and allow community members to get involved with the cause.

“The flag plaza will get the chance to explain the relationship,” Klimek said.

Christy Dowling, reigning Kansas Czech-Slovak Queen and junior in biology, is one K-State student promoting this project.

“The biggest part of it is learning; it’s an opportunity to find out about the other culture and bring a piece of the different part of the world into Manhattan,” Dowling said. “It’s neat because we have so many exchange students from the Czech Republic; it’s nice for them to see some place that Manhattan has an idea about the culture.”

With ancestral ties to Czechoslovakia, the partnership is close to Dowling, and she said she wanted to use her position as Czech Queen to promote the partnership as well as the building of the flag plaza. To do so, Dowling recently joined the advisory committee.

“She’s a great addition; we were so excited when she actually called,” Klimek said. “She’s a wonderful young lady; it’s been great. She’ll be a nice spokesperson.”

Dowling won the Kansas Czech-Slovak Queen position in July and will hold it for a full year. Next August, she is scheduled to compete in the national pageant in Nebraska to become Miss Czech-Slovak West. She said right now, her job will mainly be attending different Czech events around Kansas.

Dowling is also studying abroad in the Czech Republic next semester, and said she will get to meet with the Dobrichovice mayor and act as a liaison.

“Going over there, she’ll be able to carry the torch,” Klimek said.

The flag plaza, which will sit on the corner of 14th Street and Poyntz Avenue, is expected to cost about $150,000, which will be paid for completely with private donations. Klimek said the committee already had two $10,000 donations and has about $50,000 more to go.

Community members will have the opportunity to participate in the building of the flag plaza through donations. People can purchase everything from bricks to benches to flag poles, each of which will have name plates with donor names. Construction on the plaza is set to begin in spring 2011, and a dedication is scheduled for September of the same year.

Klimek said he hopes involvement in building the flag plaza will ultimately lead to more interest and awareness of the partner city.

“That’s the hope and desire; as people know and educate themselves, they’ll want to get involved,” he said.

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